Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Few Notes on Traveling to the United Kingdom


It’s been said by better people than me that they drive on the wrong side of the street and talk funny in Great Britain. But if you think there’s nothing more to this famous land than an eccentric refusal to drive on the right (i.e., “proper”) side of the street and a peculiar habit of dropping superfluous “u’s” into words (i.e., “favourite”), then you are woefully mistaken. Worse than that, you’re ignorant.

But ignorance is no crime, unless you’re committing a crime without realizing it, such as forgetting to pay for a tube of digestives you’ve taken off a shelf at Morrisons, a prominent store in the United Kingdom.

I visited this land for a week in July 2008, and I came away from the experience with some new insights, which I hope to share in this exciting travel narrative.


The first thing you should know about the United Kingdom is that it combines the charm of a drab, elderly woman in sensible knickers with the convenience of something really inconvenient. The citizens have been raised to believe that concepts like comfort and satisfaction are decadent, and therefore rude.


I don’t mean to make a blanket judgment based on only a few days worth of experiences, but the food in the United Kingdom is uniformly bad.

The food is an excellent case in point. Start with the “English Breakfast,” not to be confused with the “Appetizing Breakfast.” It consists of warmed over tomatoes from a can, warmed over beans from a can, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, heavy tubes of sausage, and something they playfully refer to as “bacon.” It is not bacon. It is half-cooked soggy ham strips. The hotel we stayed at in London included shot glasses filled with watery orange juice. The best part was the heavy oatmeal. £4.95, which, with the poor exchange rate, was about $10.00.

Okay, why not try a pub? Those are famous places at which to get a little refreshment. Well, that’s just what I did, after a day of visiting The Tower of London, a famous prison at which they used to hold people who belonged to the wrong Christian sects and homosexuals. (In fairness to Britons, to my knowledge they no longer imprison people for these reasons.)

A suit of armor in the Tower of London museum.
First Knight: Nice codpiece.
Second Knight: That's what she said!

At this pub I had a dish called Sausage with Bubble and Squeak, which consisted of four of those sausages in about a half-inch of a sweet vinegary fluid that might be called “sauce,” surrounding a patty of potato, cabbage, and something I could not identify (it was shredded), on which rested three onion rings. What the sausages lacked in flavor (“flavour”), they more than made up for in density. The potato patty was soggy, but I don’t think that was from the sauce. The onion rings had been left in the deep fryer just long enough.

But the true measure of any pub is its beer, or “ale,” and on this score, I am unfit to judge. I can’t tell the difference between “good” and “bad” beer- it all tastes like what I imagine stale animal urine would taste like. I prefer White Russians and Mojitos. Anyway, the sip of Guinness that I had tasted like any can of Pabst.


To be honest, I’m not sure that it is. But I can tell you that each time I stepped into one, it was more crowded than any other restaurant, with lines (“queues”) that stretched almost as long as the lines to get on the buses. So at least, it’s massively popular, and it’s easy to see why. The food tastes decent and it’s relatively inexpensive (meal deals started at £2.99). But I didn’t want to wait in line for something I could get at home anyway (although I was curious about the “Little Mexican”), so instead I went down to Burger King and got the six mini Angus burgers meal for £5.99. That’s around $12, American, which is like TGI Friday’s prices.

My Burger King Angus Burgers. They weren't what I would call "good." But the Coke was served without ice, which was interesting.


Fish and chips: Crap and shit

Mince meat pie: Wince- eat why?

Scottish Breakfast: Avoid

Indian Food: Not bad, actually. I would stick with this

Mince meat pie. It tasted like a Banquet Beef Pot Pie you would get in a box from your local Ralphs (or Kroger) in America. But with fewer vegetables. By the way- they do love their peas in the UK. You can get them whole or "mushy," which is probably great if you like baby food.


Unfortunately, I was unable to observe any actual British bowel movements. However, based on the toilet situation (they actually call bathrooms “toilets,” as in, “Where is the men’s toilet?” I’m not sure what they call the actual “toilets”), I believe that Britons’ turds must be small, dainty things that disintegrate upon contact with the two inches of bluish green water that sits in the bottom of every bowl I used. My own BMs are sturdy, and American-sized, and therefore required two or three flushes of British toilets. I admit I was vaguely concerned the first couple of times I used one, watching the water swirl and fill the bowl every so slowly, then listening during the interminable period while the bowl refilled.

In America, most toilets flush with an assertive whoosh that lets you know it means business, and won’t take any shit- so to speak. In the UK, toilets negotiate. “Pardon me, Mr. Poo, but would you mind terribly if we took this little trip into the sewer? I promise it won’t be too inconvenient. What’s that? You’d like only half to make this trip? Well, no worries, we’ll just have another go ‘round on the next flush. Cheers.” This seems all the more astonishing when you consider the British diet, which I’ve already discussed. Britons must break up their BMs and spread them out over the course of the day. In America, obviously, we’re all too busy working- the average American takes fewer than six hours of vacation time per year, compared to two months for the average Briton- to waste time on waste.

Typical UK toilet. Be prepared to flush several times if you're an American.


The day after we landed in London, the leader of the country (“Prime Minister”) announced a government initiative to encourage people to throw out less food. He made the announcement from the G-8 Summit in Japan. There are a couple of things that are off about this. First, England’s participation in the G-8 Summit implies that it is somehow one of the top eight countries in the world. I don’t want to be mean, but if England is in the top eight of anything, the world is in bad shape. How is a country with such questionable toilets considered “top eight?” The answer to that question is, “I don’t know, but it is a sad state of affairs.”

Second: Why is the government telling people how much they should throw away? Why is it the government’s business what people do with their own garbage? Deciding what to throw in the “rubbish bin” is a deeply personal choice that should be left to the individual, not some faceless government bureaucrat only interested in meeting his “quota.”

Third, and most important: Why are Britons only throwing out £8.00 worth of food per week? Given the fact that the food in the UK is rubbish anyway, the government should be quite pleased that the amount that’s actually thrown out is relatively small. And here’s something else that just occurred to me: Even if this rubbish is actually eaten, it’s just shit into the sewers anyway, so isn’t it just 6 of 1? Rubbish is rubbish, whether in the toilet or the bin.


I actually have a lot more observations, but I have lost interest in writing anymore. Suffice it to say, the people of the United Kingdom are blessed with the fortitude to actually live there, which is saying a lot. To them I say what I have said to all of my ex girlfriends: I wish you the best of luck in all future endeavors.

The British diet must be conducive to a long life, because I saw a lot of these signs all over England and Scotland. But really, why would you want to live to a ripe old age in a place with such food and bathroom problems?

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